Perth is exciting right now. Fremantle too. People everywhere due to the Fringe Festival and its 700+ shows.
Generally I like front row – perfect view and extra leg room – but at Fringe shows there’s almost always audience participation so caution is required. For example at the brilliant La Soiree in the Spiegeltent last Wednesday one poor young bloke was forced to put his hand on the naked breast of a female performer – imagine that. I was in the second row.
We were front row at Fremantle Town Hall for Blues and Burlesque featuring original Dexy’s Midnight Runners keyboard player Pete Saunders. When his companion Ms Vicious Delicious came down looking for victims we avoided eye contact and survived.
Second row for Damian Cullinan’s one-man show The Merger. But I got picked out and finished up a premiership player after being named in the forward pocket in the grand final for the Bodgy Creek Roosters.
The Roosters were struggling early in the piece and faced the prospect of merging with bitter rivals the Hudson’s Flat Cougars – and disappearing.
A multi-faceted recovery plan was nutted out (involving butcher’s paper) but it was an idea from coach Troy Carrington that had unexpected results. He decided to recruit players from the Asylum Seekers Refuge Centre. One of them, Saaed Ali, who developed his reading in English on books like Crackers: The Peter Keenan Story, turned out to be a gun player.
This show resonated with me beyond the unexpected joy of playing in a late-career premiership (Carrington accurately pointed out I was a useless player suited only to tagging).
Over the past 10 years I’ve worked a lot with refugees and plenty of them have grown to love Australian Rules footy. One was Arif. We often had a kick together – he was strongly built, loved leading for the ball, had good hands and could kick the ball a mile and sometimes straight. I rang around and found a club close to his home. They were glad to welcome him down to training.
In 2009 Arif became an Australian citizen and showed a keen sense of what his new home is (or should be) about. “When I first came to Australia two years ago I needed an interpreter for a Centrelink appointment. Now I can speak English and I’ve learned a lot about Australian culture. I play soccer for a South American team and Australian Rules for my local club.”
Sometimes we’d talk about what had happened to his family as the Taliban seeped its way into his community. He told of his escape and what was left behind.
After the September school holidays of 2009 I ran into Arif and asked how his break had been.
“Very sad sir,” he said.
“Oh no. What happened?”
“I sat down with some friends to watch the grand final sir. St Kilda lost. I was devastated.”
The Merger ends with a grand final between Bodgy Creek and Hudson’s Flat and, sorry, I’ve already given you the result.
This show has been around for a while and is now as tight as it needs to be. Cullinan’s ad-libbing is brilliant, the hi-tech additions like the local community radio station are superb and the audience is used very skilfully.
The Merger is being made into a movie, I hope Julian Burnside appears as himself.
• Now I’m off to update my footy CV. 2016: premiership player Bodgy Creek Football Club… shit, might get a call from bloody Essendon.
• Crackers: The Peter Keenan Story as told to Simon Towny was published by ABC Books in 1990.